Comments on Decentralization, Inequality and Poverty Relief in China by Li, Tao, and Yang Xiaobo Zhang Peking University and IFPRI Extremely Important Topic • Rising inequality is a top concern. • Decentralization is a defining feature of Chinese economy. It has shaped China’s growth and income distributional patterns. • This paper makes a contribution to understanding the impact of decentralization on rural-urban income gap. China’s Fiscal Structure Fiscal decentralization Expenditures tie more closely to revenue Horizontally, inter-judiciary competition. Page 3 China’s Political Structure Page 4 Organizational form. Replicate, vertical hierarchical structure Irrelevant of economic size and local needs. Strong central mandates. Family planning Social stability and occupational safety (no major accidents) Other central tasks Hierarchical Structure Central Province Prefecture County Township: Village: Page 5 Page 6 Uneven Fiscal Dependent Burden Page 7 Zhang, JCE (2006) Regressive Tax Rate Page 8 Zhang, JCE (2006) Two Spirals Tax burdens are extremely high in poor regions with agriculture as the major means of production. Downward spiral: small tax base, more extraction from limited agricultural surplus and nonfarm activities, worsening investing environment, and lowering public goods provision. They are low in developed regions initially with a large nonfarm sector. Page 9 Virtuous cycle: light tax burden for each enterprise, more public inputs, better investing environment. Coastal Region: Race to the “Bottom” Less tax on capital Small governments and better investment environment, but sometime under provision of public goods (such as crime problem) Page 10 Poor Region: Race to the “Top” Big government and predatory investment environment. Devote most energy to obtain transfers from the upper level government. Keep the “poverty county” status partly by underreporting income. This is probably why in the poverty regressions, transfer is always negative for rural income (a key finding of the paper). Page 11 Decentralization and Overall Regional Inequality Page 12 Fan, Kanbur, and Zhang, RDF (2011) Tax Sharing Rate and Rural-Urban Income Ratio Page 13 Drawn based on Tables 1 and 2 of Li, Tao, and Yang (2013) Heavy-Industry-led Development Strategy and Rural-Urban Inequality Page 14 Fan, Kanbur, and Zhang (2012) Problem of using Rural-Urban Gap in Regressions • Local rural-urban income gap is not equal to national rural-urban inequality. – It doesn’t take the within-rural and within-urban inequality in a prefecture into account; – Cross-regional migration is not accounted. An Example 30 Inland Coast 25 20 Poor 15 Rich 10 5 0 Rural Urban Rural Income Urban An Example 50 Coast Inland 45 40 35 30 Poor 25 Rich 20 15 10 5 0 Rural Urban Rural Income Urban Alternative method: regression-based decomposition • Suppose y is income per capita (each region has two observations, one for rural and one for urban): Alternative method: regression-based decomposition Zhang and Zhang (2003) Mapping Findings to Policy Options • “It is necessary to introduce local accountability from the bottom up, through both democratic elections and information transparency.” • Election is just one way to hold local officials accountable. Challenges of Promoting Local Democracy • Both political and economic decentralization may jeopardize national unity. • Local elite capture/ clientelism can become a problem (See Mu and Zhang, JDE forthcoming). Indigenous Reforms on the Ground • Cut the prefecture-level government (Hubei); • Merge townships; • Borrow police officers from regions. • Pairwise-aid (from rich to poor province) strategy (Sichuan and Xinjiang) Other Suggestions • For the poverty part, it is better to use outcome variable from census, agricultural census, or economic census, which are less manipulated by local officials. • Split the paper into two papers. • Take logs for economic and population variables.